If you are a student, then you should start with the post that tells you How to Read like a Renaissance Reader -- a vade mecum for reading, using, understanding, working through, thinking about, laboring over, and actually writing texts.

Breaking Books

On Shakespeare

Faking Shakespeare


Bound Together



Bibliographical Miscellany   

If you are new to Anchora you should start at the very beginning with the indelible (in all the senses of that adjective) trademark of the blog: Festina Lente. The inaugural post explains why this blog is called Anchora, why it focuses so insistently on the materiality of early modern texts, and why my impulse is to question the integrity of those texts (or books, or material objects, or what have you).

If you are wondering why this page is called an "index" rather than simply, or only, a "table of contents" then you should read The Importance of Being Indexed. As that post indicates, an index points the reader to the important parts of a book -- just like the manicules that litter the margins of some of the books you'll find here below.

Much of the material on this blog is drawn from the Special Collections library at the University of Iowa -- a library not necessarily or widely known for its early modern collection. This blog is in part dedicated to providing access to -- and more importantly teaching with -- the materials in this collection. For an explanation of the pedagogical value of these materials, see my post in praise of less known libraries.

Speaking of the Special Collections library, if you would like to see me and librarian Colleen Theisen speak about Shakespeare, see our annual "livestreams" for 201420152016, and 2017.  You can also watch an episode of "Staxpeditions" called Shakespeare for Sale.

Breaking Books Apart

A series of posts that question the integrity of some of the most iconic authors and their books.

Breaking Shakespeare
My students broke a Shakespeare folio!

Breaking Shakespeare Apart
Students aren't the only ones who break apart Shakespeare -- booksellers do, too. On the other hand, to what extent is a Shakespeare folio ever a coherent, complete object?

Breaking Jonson Apart
The self-consciously monumental Jonson folio is equally contingent, and has been broken apart into its constituent pieces, as well.

Breaking Shakespeare Apart (Part 2)
A short history of folio fragments, focusing on a leaf book that includes a single leaf from all four seventeenth-century Shakespeare folios.

Breaking Gutenberg Apart
The noblest fragment of them all -- a leaf book made by breaking apart a Gutenberg bible, a practice paradoxically justified by its sacred status.

Cheap and Common
The humblest fragments of them all -- a bibliographic reference book that incorporates leaves from "cheap and common" books. This post is a collaboration with Marissa Nicosia, and is cross-posted (with variants) at the UPenn libraries blog.

Anonymous Marlowe
Breaking apart of a different kind -- this post argues (kind of) that Marlowe did not write everyone's favorite Renaissance lyric, "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love."

Faking Shakespeare

Why settle for the authentic Shakespeare (particularly if it's already been broken apart) when you can make your own?

Faking Shakespeare (Part 1): Passionate Pilgrims
A brief history of the original Shakespearean forgery, the 1599 poetry collection The Passionate Pilgrime, along with a remarkable late-eighteenth century attempt to duplicate that effort by creating a unique "1599" edition of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Faking Shakespeare (Part 2): Spenserian Baconiana
A reader of Spenser's Shepheardes Calender uses a pink pen to try to prove that Francis Bacon really wrote Shakespeare.

Faking Shakespeare (Part 3): Authentic Shakespeare, Authentic Ireland
Authentic (and authenticated) forgeries from the most infamous Shakespeare forger of them all, William Henry Ireland.

Faking Shakespeare (Part 4): The Tragedy of Louis XVI
William Henry Ireland writes a tragedy based on the death of Louis XVI in the style of Shakespeare -- or at least Shakespeare as imagined and forged by Ireland himself.


Posts that focus on Shakespeare (and lesser degrees of breaking and faking) even though they are all really about something else.

Shakespeare for Sale A link to my introduction to a special issue of Philological Quarterly that features some of the best new work in the field of Shakespeare and book history.

Monumental Shakespeare A monument to Shakespeare's monumental book, the First Folio, and its compilers, John Heminge and Henry Condell -- and my trans-atlantic journey to tell its story, and to find the parish church that once stood next to it.

Shakespeare's Beehive and Shakespeare's Printer I review a book claiming to have found a dictionary annotated by Shakespeare, and I have a lot to say -- about a printer from Stratford, and about the stories we choose to tell about Shakespeare.

Original Copies
The William Morris fine press edition of the poems, and the idea of an "original" Shakespearean text.

Mangling Shakespeare
In praise of quoting Shakespeare in -- and out -- of context, a custom more honored in the breach than the observance.

Re-membering Shakespeare
A centerpiece of the exhibit "Shakespeare at Yale" was the earliest recorded quotation from Shakespeare -- or, actually, maybe not.


The exclamation mark says it all: the joys of looking at books that have been thoroughly used -- books whose owners took to heart the advice given to Renaissance readers (i.e. to write in their books).

Emending and Remembering
A lengthy examination of a copy of Speght's 1598 edition of Chaucer whose owner(s) paid close attention to, and expanded on, the memorial and scholarly intent of the book's paratexts.

Curses and Cuttings
Matching father-and-son book curses written on a blank page in a bible.

Notable Notes (guest post by Rachel Stevenson)
A reader who paid attention to the title of Thomas Lupton's A Thousand Notable Things.

Her Book (guest post by Rachel Stevenson)
Part of an extended thesis research project that examined a remarkable copy of Spenser's Works annotated by a woman reader.

The Catalogue of (Dis)Honor (guest post by Rachel Stevenson)
Not exactly marginalia -- but a particularly incisive example of censorship in a copy of The Catalogue of Honor.

William Morris Was Here; or, Thinking Pink
An unexpected provenance leads to a consideration of the Kelmscott Press fine press edition of Spenser -- which omits the paratextual material so central to his work -- alongside a 17th century copy of Spenser annotated in pink ink.

Marginal Math
What did early modern folks use their books for? Doing math problems in the margins, of course.

Adam's Wicked Heart
Irresistibly eponymous marginalia on a leaf from the Coverdale bible.

Bound Together

A companion of sorts to the series on breaking books apart that looks at how books were so often bound together (i.e., sammelband) -- a practice that questions the idea and integrity of "the book."

"a collection of plays, published separately"
An 18th century dramatic sammelband, which really is a collection of plays, published separately (but bound together) -- with an interesting provenance.

"Miscellaneous collection of sermons"
A companion to the previous post featuring the companion genre to plays -- sermons -- along with some astrological binding waste.

Laudian Ghost
Bound together, then broken apart: using a ghost image (no, not the ghost of Laud) to find out what pamphlets were once bound with each other.


On the most fundamental and pervasive Renaissance reading practice -- commonplacing -- both then and now. Two posts mentioned above should also be included here: How to Read like a Renaissance Reader (obviously) and Mangling Shakespeare.

Necessary Quotation Marks
The technologies of quotation -- including the most indispensable mark of punctuation, the commonplace marker -- from Shakespeare to the Kindle.


My branch of book history is sometimes referred to as "title-page studies" -- and for good reason, since title-pages can tell us more than at first meets the eye.

Amor Anchorae
I'm not the only one who likes a good anchor device. A similar fascination with printers' devices can be seen in Curses and Cuttings.

Animae Anchora Spes Viva
The only known sixteenth-century English publisher's binding (with the device featured on both covers) is -- wouldn't you know -- Thomas Vautrollier's anchor device.

Reading Devices
In honor of the fifth centenary of the death of Aldus Manutius, a post on the practice and importance of "reading" printers' devices.

Sidney's Porcupine
On the use and (often incongruous) re-use of the famous frontispiece to Sidney's Arcadia.

Donne's Body
An act of commemoration and expansion, as a reader makes "J.D." into "J. Donne."

A Number 1
Title-pages were so important that often there was a blank leaf that would help protect it -- the A1 leaf that often does not (but, as I show here, sometimes does) survive.

A1 redux: "Certaine Scandalous Papers"
Another blank A1 leaf, this time with an owner's mark and a comment on "certaine scandalous papers" relating to the most notorious act of (attempted) Jacobean terrorism.

Faking 1599
Some title-page detective work shows that an edition of a censored text -- John Hayward's history of Henry IV -- wasn't actually printed in 1599.

A Bibliographical Miscellany

Posts which illustrate basic bibliographical aspects of early modern books (and which don't fit any of the categories above) -- or, posts which exemplify the guiding philosophy of this blog: "wow, look at that!"

in quarto
An uncut quarto sheet! This is a great for teaching how imposition worked in the hand-press period.

Red Velvet
A red velvet binding! The book is actually a collection of pamphlets published separately, and so provides another example for the "bound together" series listed above.

Loving and Glorie
A pressed flower! This book also includes some interesting biblical marginalia.

X-ray VIsion
An attempt to use X-ray fluorescence to analyze signs of use in early modern books.